Great movies don’t exist in a vacuum. No matter the artistic or ambitious drive, story must take priority. In Alpha, a young tribesman believed dead must fend for himself. Along the way, he meets a wolf. The latter’s wildness eventually cools. Thus, mutual trust ends up shaped by circumstance and necessity.
Director Albert Hughes doesn’t embellish. Sure, his film contains lovely transitions and visuals, yet these all serve the story. As such, we shiver at the cold and marvel at the green northern lights. Actually, I was moved by the simplicity of this film.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, normally a vacant presence, felt right at home as Keda. He’s very good navigating this arc. Some early hesitancy about how to make a fire -- no lighters 20,000 years ago -- or finish a kill are two important areas. Above all, he faces every difficulty posed by nature with a warrior spirit.
Meanwhile, Best Supporting Actor consideration should be given to Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson. He conveys the aura of a young Orson Welles circa The Third Man. There’s remarkable vulnerability and power behind those eyes.
Finally, let’s talk about Chuck. He’s the real scene-stealer in Alpha; a wolf who bonds with Keda and earns the titular designation via courage and friendship. I enjoyed his company immensely.
(Released by Sony Pictures Releasing and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)